In her debut, New York Times sports reporter Pilon deftly explores the origin of the Monopoly board game.
For as much enjoyment and strategic suspense as the game inspires in its players, the author reports on its flip side: Monopoly’s problematic, serpentine roots. Inventor Lizzie Magie, an outspoken Washington, D.C., stenographer and activist, based her “Landlord’s Game” on personal progressive political views and those of 19th-century politician, economist and “magnetic leader” Henry George and his radical “single tax theory.” Yet, as the author notes, Magie’s name would soon become disassociated from the game. Charles Darrow, an unemployed salesman, would eventually take credit for Monopoly’s creation with his own controversial appropriation of the game and, with its blockbuster success, rescue a near-bankrupt Parker Brothers Company. Pilon also explores the work of competitive Parker rival Milton Bradley, and she looks at later appropriations of Monopoly in the early 1930s. It’s certainly surprising how Darrow and Parker Brothers were able to receive a patent for Monopoly “given the two Landlord’s Game patents that had come before it.” Sketchier still were Parker Brothers swift payoffs to creators of pre-Darrow Monopoly game incarnations (including Magie). However, the intrigue and litigious melodramatics hardly end there, as more questions on the authenticity of Parker’s version of the game continued to surface. Pilon invests this surprisingly contentious chronicle with a dynamic mix of journalistic knowledge and subtle wit, adding a compelling chapter on a San Francisco economics professor’s invention of the “Anti-Monopoly Game,” which drew the ire of Parker Brothers and incited even more antagonistic trademark-infringement lawsuits. Contemporary gamers interested in exploring the early genesis of their pastime will find Pilon to be a readable, entertaining tour guide.
A fascinating, appealingly written history of an iconic American amusement.